The first assignment Mellisa Allen took on at Tervis in 2008 was to update the number of employees listed on the “about us” section on the firm's website to 200.
Allen's title at the Venice-based insulated drinkware firm back then was e-commerce marketing manager. She was a department of one. Six years later, Allen oversees a technology department of 20 people at Tervis, which has since exploded to around 900 employees.
That rocket-like growth, not only in payroll, but in sales and national branding presence, has turned Tervis into the rare gazelle of the Sarasota-Bradenton business community. The firm no longer discloses annual revenues, but in 2011, when it had 425 employees, sales were around $100 million, up from $75 million in 2010.
Tervis has addressed the rapid growth with more space and more senior-level executives, like Allen. Senior Vice President of Engineering Mark Lawson and Danene Jaffe, head of brand development and market strategy, join Allen at the forefront of the Tervis leadership team.
The trio is part of a group of Tervis employees who will move into the firm's 24,000-square-foot innovation center, currently under construction next to its headquarters. Expected to open late this year, the innovation center is designed with open work and meeting spaces. Departments will include marketing, Web, new product development and licensing.
The new facility is also the latest proof that Tervis, founded in 1946, has grown from a local cup manufacturer to a national player in the retail and gift industry. Tervis has introduced several new products in recent years, including water bottles. It's added thousands of new tumbler designs.
“We pride ourselves on being innovators,” Tervis President and CEO Pat Redmond says in a press release about the innovation center. “We are constantly seeking new ways to improve and provide our consumers with exactly what they are seeking.”
A onetime Tervis board member, Redmond was named CEO in early 2012. He says Allen, Jaffe and Lawson are trailblazers who “bring an extraordinary amount of talent, experience and creativity to Tervis.”
The new executives recently sat down with the Business Observer to discuss how their roles fit into specific areas of the Tervis strategy. Here are excerpts of the conversation:
Allen: One of the great things about the innovation center is that it promotes and fosters sharing. There will be greater visibility and exposure to what each of the teams are working on. (The company) demonstrates innovation in and of itself for having something that can be viewed as so simple but yet people are so passionate about.
Jaffe: Innovation is really about listening to the consumers and understanding how our brand fits into their lives. Innovation is about bringing those products to market in a new and different way. And ultimately it's about growing the business.
We are a team that understands that no one person has an answer. What we are trying to do is help the organization understand that by reaching out to their peers they get to a better solution.
Lawson: Maintaining that as the company gets bigger can be a bit of a challenge. The innovation center will allow us the space to grow but still get the kind of closer, smaller environment that has helped us be successful.
What I've learned is that innovation is a team sport. You need communication, cooperation and in particular you need people who are externally facing toward the consumer and internal expertise within the company to work together. I think we have the framework here where we can leverage that over the coming years.
Jaffe: There are a couple of ways ideas come to the organization. Recently we did some research on what the Tervis brand means to consumers. So the voice of the consumer comes through in putting together a road map of future products. We also encourage our employees to come up with new ideas. Many of our employees, in fact I would venture to say all of our employees, are Tervis owners and users and so they have firsthand knowledge of the product. They regularly come up with ideas on ways to enhance the product and the brand.
Allen: We are very active listeners. With social media being as participatory as it is, especially with our fan base, we are very fortunate to have insights coming to us.
Lawson: Working on the right things. Since we provide the new products for revenue growth, the challenge is to provide that growth but still uphold the tradition, culture and the relationship with the consumer.
Allen: When you have been in an environment that has been on the trajectory we have and experiencing such accelerated growth you are constantly trying to figure out what to do first, next and third. In a department that is front-end and also has areas that support the overall business, it's always about balancing.
Jaffe: It's a fast growing company, so you have to be ready to take advantage of opportunities.
Allen: We have to pick the right things for the consumer. If it's the right thing for the consumer, it will be the right thing for Tervis. Where we are getting better is that just because we can doesn't mean we should. That's a statement Danene makes a lot, and it's really true.
Lawson: We all think about being extremely consistent in a high-growth environment because want everything we do to enhance the brand. That's true of everyone in the building. Everyone would like everything to be perfect. So managing the focus of working on the right things and to never do anything to detract from the brand is a responsibility I feel.
IDEAS IN ACTION
Allen: We demonstrate our innovation muscle when we are able to provide our consumers with a solution or experience that is unexpectedly simple but very genuine.
A perfect example of this was the introduction of the Tervis Customyzer. Though customizer applications have been part of the online space for the last several years, the Tervis Customyzer allows consumers to create truly one-of-a-kind designs that are then permanently sealed and showcased between the walls of our tumblers. It gives every Tervis fan the ability to transform into a designer and put their own mark on their favorite tumbler or water bottle.
We had two unequivocal criteria: One, the end product must uphold the Tervis quality standards our fans have come to know and expect, and two, the experience must be equal parts fun and simple. We wanted consumers of all skill sets to be able create masterpieces, so we included a variety of easy-to-use tools and applied a Tervis twist.
Over the two-plus years of the Tervis Customyzer, we have seen our tumblers become the time capsule to memorialize the birth of a new child to an everyday reminder of one's bucket lists and even the stage to pop the big question. (We followed up and she said yes!)
The Tervis Customyzer really exhibits the creative spirit of our fans and allows our brand to become even more woven into their lives.
Mellisa Allen, head of technology
Joined Tervis in 2008, when she was e-commerce marketing manager. Worked for branding and media company Starcom in Chicago and IT firm CDW before Tervis.
“As I've progressed in my career my appetite for taking on more risks has grown for the positive, especially in technology,” says Allen. “As fast as things are changing, the second you become concerned about taking a risk, is the second you are behind.”
Danene Jaffe, head of brand development and market strategy
Has been with Tervis for about seven months. Previously worked in marketing for Rye, N.Y.-based global consumer products firm Jarden Consumer Solutions, a Fortune 300 company with $7.35 billion in 2013 sales. Product teams she oversaw at Jarden include the Margaritaville frozen concoction maker and the Crock-Pot slow cooker. She's also worked in marketing for Gillette, Laura Ashley home furnishings and Sunbeam Products.
Says Jaffe: “I'm excited to bring my brand experience to Tervis and help the brand turn into a household name.”
Mark Lawson, Senior Vice President of Engineering
Joined Tervis in May 2013. Previously worked in supply chain and chief manufacturing roles for automotive, medical and consumer product companies. Moved to the area from Chicago to help take care of his mother.
“I've never worked for a company that has so much support from the community,” says Lawson. “When someone finds out you work at Tervis, the response is always extremely positive.”
Company. Tervis Industry. Retail, manufacturing Key. To innovate, you must focus. Tervis is doing so with a new 24,000-square-foot center.